The Moment The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Was Won

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Zdeněk Štybar makes his move in the final approach to Ninove just after Greg Van Avermaet has closed down a big attack from Tim Wellens leaving the pair in the red. It was the final move of a busy race with attacks flying throughout the final two hours.

When does the season start? Officially it started on the the 23 October 2018 with the Tour of Hainan and claims otherwise just revealing preferences and bias. But there’s something comforting about the openingsweekend and the start of the Belgian season. It’s like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for a year and being able to pick up where you left off the last time. The guy with the “Luc” banner, the comforting voice of Michel Wuyts on Sporza, the leaden skies above and the betonweg roads below, it’s like these things never went away, and a year on they’ve just been waiting for us to return.

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The race had a slow start, so slow that the women’s race had to be halted for seven minutes as they were in danger of catching the men. An early move went clear with Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Alex Howes (EF Education First), Roy Jans (Corendon-Circus) and Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie-Bruxelles). Things looked sleepy until 90km go and then moves started to happen. This is one reason the Flemish races are so popular because the action can erupt with two hours to go. Here ace cards were being played already as a group of 21 riders went clear with the likes of Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quickstep), Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) and Ian Stannard (Sky) in the group to name just three. One team that missed the move was CCC and they set about chasing and with hindsight this might have cost them riders they wanted for the finish as the large group hovered around a 40 second lead for the next 15km on the bunch.

With 51km to go Philippe Gilbert accelerated on the Kerkgate cobbles and only Wout van Aert and Greg Van Avermaet could follow, again aces making moves from afar. Things reformed but on the Molenberg with 40km to go and a group of 17 riders drifted clear and caught Devriendt as the last rider from the early move. Sensing the good move had gone, Nils Politt (Katusha) tried to bridge, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) too but their moves lasted for seconds. Among the 17 riders in the lead it’s easier to list who wasn’t there and Sunweb for Mathews, EF Education First for Vanmarcke and Direct Energie for Terpstra led the chase. Up front there were no surprise passengers and they were rolling through but their lead was struggling to reach 30 seconds thanks to the chase behind.

Into the Elverenberg and Lotto-Soudal’s Tiesj Benoot wiped on a corner, stumbling into the doorstep of a house by the road, looking winded and fortunately nothing more serious. The accident split the group with six riders in the lead over top of the berg: Štybar, Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Štybar, Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Teuns (Bahrain-Merida). The latter two impressed, normally creatures you find in the Ardennes in April but both have expressed a wish to ride more of the cobbled classics this year; after the race Wellens was telling TV he’d ask his team about riding even more.

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Down to six and Kazakh champion Lutsenko looked like a tour guide escorting visitors around the Flemish bergs, it all looked so easy. But it was a race and having recently won on the Jebel Akhdar there was no difficulty tough enough, or rather long enough, to shake his rivals here. Onto the Muur – the crowds looked light – and only Oss was detached, the other five were going to the finish together.

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Van Avermaet attacked at the foot of the Bosberg but was quickly marked by Štybar and over the top Lutsenko tried a move but they were all together for the approach to Ninove. Van Avermaet tried a long acceleration, he had no team mates behind – that chase earlier? – so kept wanting to go clear as if he feared a sprint with the others and had to keep the group clear because they had a slender lead. The chase group was led for a long time by Luke Durbridge, toiling for his sprinter Matteo Trentin.

Wellens put in a big move, diving to the far side of a large traffic island but Van Avermaet accelerated and caught the move and with the two riders in the red it was time for Štybar to make his move. He surged clear, his cadence visibly higher as if he didn’t want to make that tell-tale “clunk” of the chain dropping into the 11T before a big attack.

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He got a gap but only just but with Wellens and Van Avermaet chasing they’d just made their moves and both were looking backwards. Lutsenko then tried to chase but he too was craning his neck to see what has happening behind. Štybar was away it was Czechmate for the others.

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The Verdict
Entertaining but not a vintage edition, but this is judging by the high standards of past editions such as the suspense of 2016 when Van Avermaet got the better of Sagan or Ian Stannard taking apart Quick Step in 2015. It bodes well for the rest of the classics season. It’s good be back.

29 thoughts on “The Moment The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Was Won”

  1. This is one of my favorite races of the year for several reasons. First it ends the long wait since October and the Italian classics. Obviously you have the Australian and Asian races but they just don’t cut it for me. I enjoy Anadalusia far more that that but the Classics mark the real start of the season. Second it signals the end of the long winter in central Europe which is so depressing for me – the Omloop always tells you that sping is not far away. And third – it starts the Classics campaign, the most enjoyable part of the season. Today’s result threw up some surprises – some guys are already in top shape but I was more surprised by the lack of form of others (Vanmarcke, Valgren and the whole Trek team). Very happy for Stybar, finally the win he deserved so much!

    • It’s the first real race of the season, you are exactly right. I think also rightfully shown on this blog by the lack of commentary on the earlier races. It’s nice to have a bit of action in January, but really nothing gets the juices flowing until this race.
      I just took the mudguards and durano plus tires off the bike yesterday. Because today is Omloop. Today is spring.

      I love the podium picture. For me Van Avermaet can sometimes resemble Hinault with that stare.

  2. “the comforting voice of Michel Wuyts”

    And the mumbling of José De Cauwer… I got to admit he knows the complete CV of every minor Flemish cyclist, but damn, sometimes he’s hard to understand for this Hollander.

        • Yes, exactly right! Ooooh wow wow wow. Hier kommt de kopgroup. Junges Junges Junges. And so forth.

          You just know you watch too much Sporza when you basically know the language from wathcing it

      • The Word is ” Ribbedebie ” Like He is Ribbedebie. Meaning is he gone clear and goning for the win….. So when they say it we know the race is done…….

  3. I would have much referred the race commissar’s voice on the race radio, saying: “Attention all teams! Everyone, I repeat, everyone who is passed by the leading female rider will be flagged out, I repeat, will be flagged out!”

  4. A very lucid and colourful report Inner Ring .I watched the race on Eurosport mercifully without Mr Kirby and it was a very good curtain raiser for the spring classics . Sorry not to see Stannard up there at the end but Stybar a very creditable winner.

    • Stannard went backwards on the Mur and Bosberg…. not back to his best yet – perhaps still working up to a peak for the big ones?

    • Indeed.
      Perhaps, in a smokey bar somewhere (if such places still exist), a certain Frenchman ordered himself a generous Cointreau last night, to muse on the modern trend to winter on Teide instead of in the north-European mud?

    • It can’t do any harm – I think he did about 6-7 races over the Christmas period, in between his normal training.
      I wish more riders would use CX as winter training; short, sharp intense 60 min races, and improve bike handling. But, as Roger Hammond noted in last month’s ProCycling, modern teams don’t like riders ‘field driving’ anymore. Will be interesting to see how many races Jumbo-Visma let Van Aert do next winter.

    • +1 although one slight caveat, reading about the POTUS circus

      Yet to all my friends in UK and the Euro-zone good luck on brexit.

  5. While the Muur crowds might have been light, for me it was great to see bike racing back in a place where people care enough to come out and watch and with TV directors who seem to have freedom to show all the racing they want. Really makes me excited to head up to Toscana next week!!!

  6. Like many cycle racing fans I welcome the onset of beer, bergs, cobbles and mayhem this weekend. Enjoyed the input from Magnus Backstedt on Eurosport yesterday as he’s been there, done that. Whilst waiting for K-B-K coverage to commence, have a quick read of the article below to further enhance your enjoyment of what makes Belgian racing irresistible

  7. It was a good race to watch, but I’m finding it frustrating to see the QS-D guys repeating the strategy of getting someone into the lead group late in the race and having that rider basically be a passenger until the last few km. Meanwhile, they have one or two strong riders in the chase group, who are also playing passenger, so they have all the leverage if the group comes back together. I see them more as a hyena pack than a wolf pack – just harass the strongest riders (i.e., the lions) until they falter, when swoop in a steal the kill.

    Also still not sure what GvA’s strategy was much of the time.

    • QS is built for these races. An an abundance of talent that can ride deep into a +200k berg fest and possibly win. No different than Sky being built for Grand Tours. Every team would employ the QS cobbled strategy if they had the talent. I enjoy watching to see how other teams try to combat the QS strategy. I was pleased to see ZS win for his sake. Keeps his mouth shut, works hard and is tough.

      • Can’t say I much enjoy the GC grand tour races, except to cheer for an underdog to upset the Sky train.
        As for the QS classics strategy, I wonder if there will be a certain amount of “what goes around, comes around.” That is, their strategy of getting someone into the front group and then wheel sucking, while disrupting chase behind, can be thrown back at them if other teams are sufficiently motivated.

        Today at KBK Jungles was very impressive, and definitely not a wheel sucker. But it looked like Yves Lampert, who was key in slowing the chase after Jungles, saw Groenewegen about to pass him (YL) at the line and lurched out into DG’s path to try to hold on for 4th place. Maybe Lampert was just exhausted, and briefly lost control immediately after he looked over his shoulder at DG, but it looked intentional. That’s the kind of thing that makes me not respect the “wolf pack.”

  8. I would have put the moment the race was won a little earlier, when Štybar quietly slipped on to Lutsenko’s wheel as he came back from doing his turn, unnerving Lutsenko into disrupting the group. That triggered the attacks by Van Avermaet and Wellens, which in turn set up the opportunity for Štybar to launch his own attack while they were in the red.

  9. “It’s like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for a year and being able to pick up where you left off the last time. The guy with the “Luc” banner, the comforting voice of Michel Wuyts on Sporza, the leaden skies above and the betonweg roads below, it’s like these things never went away, and a year on they’ve just been waiting for us to return.”


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